Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Downhill rider, you better learn to squeeze those brakes.
Seattle police are handing out speeding tickets not only to drivers, but to bicyclists on the downslope of Fremont Avenue North, next to B.F. Day Elementary School.
Tuesday morning, Officer Jeff Rodgers ticketed two bike riders and four motorists in an hour, while the 20 mph school-zone limit was in effect. In recent days he has cited other riders, typically rolling at 29 to 33 mph.
This sort of equal-opportunity enforcement isn’t well-known in the city of cycling Mayor Mike McGinn, where online news commenters love to complain about cyclists who flout traffic rules.
It’s a new twist following years of stepped-up law enforcement around public and private schools.
“They don’t discriminate. They are ticketing all speeders in that zone,” said Renee Witt, police spokeswoman.
Besides the human patrols, automated speed-enforcement cameras that catch drivers are expected to collect $8.6 million next year — mostly to be plowed back into sidewalks, police, signals and staff in the city’s Safe Routes to School program, a budget memo this week proposes. Four schools have speed cameras now, and the McGinn administration wants to add nine more.
Standing near a bus stop and crosswalk signal, Rodgers pointed his laser gun up the hill, where it measured speed 450 feet away. He pulled over a hatchback, a brown Jeep and a gray SUV.
Next he measured an orange bicycle at 31 mph, waved the rider to the side, and showed him the digits on the laser device. Another bicyclist stopped and asked if the man was OK.
“Yeah. I was just going too fast,” replied Robert Allyn. His bike lacks a speedometer, and after receiving his $103 citation, he said bicyclists should obey the rules of the road. “It’s not like they’re singling out me,” he said.
The fourth car was a copper Lexus. During that stop, while the policeman’s head was down writing the ticket, a bicyclist accelerated past the site. Last week, a rider suddenly swerved or stopped around the officer standing in the bike lane, and took a tumble, Rodgers said.
Two more bicyclists ran the red crosswalk signal. They crept next to the curb around stopped cars, then coasted slowly past. Rodgers ticketed one of them, who called the roll-through “a gamble” and did not want to be named.
For most riders, it takes a hillside to commute at significantly faster than 20 mph.
Rodgers said the bicycle citations are an unintended consequence of his normal traffic duty.
“I had no idea the bikers were speeding here. I just started measuring their speed because they were on the road. They have to obey the same rules of the road as the cars,” he said.
The $103 citation amount is less than the $189 charged to vehicle drivers under the Seattle Municipal Code for school-zone speeding.
Bicycling citations are written under the code “rights and duties of rider,” which requires cyclists to follow the same rules as drivers, with some exceptions. For instance, it’s legal to bike on a Seattle or Bellevue sidewalk, so long as the cyclist yields to pedestrians.
Speeding bicyclists have gained notoriety in San Francisco, where a downhill bicyclist was convicted in July of felony vehicular manslaughter for killing a 71-year-old pedestrian in an intersection, at 30 mph. In an earlier case, a San Francisco bicyclist was convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.
In the Seattle area, 83-year-old Velda Mapelli died in Renton after being hit by a bicycle in 2010, on the Cedar River Trail. No charges were filed.
Of the 457 road deaths in Washington state in 2011, 64 pedestrians and 11 bicyclists were killed, national data say.
The Harborview Injury Prevention Research Center is expected to report next spring about what effect school-zone enforcement has on crash and injury rates, said Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan.
A bicyclist’s speeding ticket goes into the municipal-court system like any other. However, it is unlikely to affect someone’s auto-insurance rates.
This is because the insurance companies, for simplicity’s sake, get driver records through the state Department of Licensing, which collects information from the muni courts, said DOL spokesman Brad Benfield. DOL’s database shows motor-vehicle infractions, not bicycle infractions, he said.
Pemco spokesman Jon Osterberg says the company hasn’t been using or looking for bicycle-related citations.
Like other speed patrols, complaints prompted the one near the school in the Fremont neighborhood. Carrie Bauer, office manager at B.F. Day Elementary, said she called the city’s Transportation Department after a parent saw unsafe driving and cycling.
“It gets safe for a while, then I think they forget. They’re in a hurry, they’re late for work,” Bauer said. “We’re doing what we can to make the kids safe.”
A priority of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington has been to help cities establish 20-mph limits on nonarterial roadways. “We’re not supporting bicyclists breaking speed limits,” said state policy director Blake Trask.
McGinn, who often rides through Fremont, said Monday he was aware of the speed trap, because he stopped a few days earlier to chat with an officer.
Some cyclists and pedestrians say the citations for bicyclists are overkill.
Throughout the city, motorists and cyclists are pulled over for breaking the 20 mph school-zone standard even if the children haven’t quite approached the school crossings yet. That happened Tuesday.
So long as yellow lights are flashing on the road sign, you face elevated odds of catching a citation.